Intelligent Hockey: Best Bets for Saturday’s Oilers-Golden Knights Game 2
The sportsbook favourites entering the postseason were ousted after one round, including the best regular season team of all time in the Boston Bruins. The most consequential goaltender in the New Jersey Devils-New York Rangers series turned out to be someone other than Igor Shesterkin. The Toronto Maple Leafs ended a nearly two-decade long drought by finally escaping the first round, beating their nemesis, the Tampa Bay Lightning, in six games. Of course, Toronto proceeded to drop the first two games of Round 2 at home to a Florida Panthers team that lost more games than they won on the road this season.
It has been a postseason of head-scratching results and perplexing performances, which means that if you can find a through line from the regular season to the playoffs it can be profitable. With the hockey world in chaos, I’m looking to the Edmonton Oilers’ offence as a refuge.
In the regular season, the Oilers’ goals per game was 3.96 and during the playoffs it rose to 4.14. This is in large part due to their power play, which went from mostly unstoppable during the regular season to a cheat code during the playoffs. Perhaps the most delicious stat of the postseason is that Edmonton’s conversion rate is 57.9 per cent, which is within shouting distance of their struggling penalty-killing percentage of 64 per cent. Having those two percentages so close boggles the mind.
With the Oilers coming off a loss in a game where they posted their worst expected goals percentage of the postseason, I’m anticipating a strong bounce-back. As such, my picks are oriented around the Oilers and their fearsome offence.
Edmonton Oilers at Vegas Golden Knights
Saturday, May 6 – 7 PM ET
The Oilers cannot win this series if their 5-on-5 play withers. Against the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton played nearly 234 minutes at 5-on-5 with the score within one. The Oilers dominated, outshooting the Kings 137-112 and finishing with a +13 high-danger chances differential. No one who advanced to the second round did better in expected goals percentage than the Oilers.
But the Vegas Golden Knights were effective in Game 1 at disrupting Edmonton’s breakout. The Oilers like their forwards to stretch the zone so they can push the puck north and attack in transition (or at minimum get the puck below the goal line).
But the Golden Knights had other ideas. Vegas’s forecheckers created havoc for the mobile Oilers’ defensive group, and the pinching Golden Knights’ blueliner sealed the boards. Edmonton spent a lot of time trapped in its own end. What balance Edmonton tries to strike between its forwards sinking deeper to support on zone exits versus trying to connect on a stretch pass will be pivotal in Game 2.
From a high-danger chances perspective, it was Edmonton’s worse performance of the playoffs, which also signifies that, even when the Oilers cleanly exit their own zone, their problems don’t end. Vegas did an outstanding job keeping Edmonton to the perimeter, and the Golden Knights inserted themselves in the shooting and passing lanes to kill plays. But as the game wore on, the Oilers started to break down the Golden Knights’ zone defence by spreading them out, with Edmonton’s forwards looping up high and its defencemen creeping down to get into the offence. Furthermore, with Vegas concentrated on defending swaths of ice, attacking off the goal line had purchase.
The Oilers were oddly reserved with running interference, possibly a reaction to how they had approached the Kings’ man-on-man defence versus the Golden Knights’ zone defence. Nevertheless, when the Oilers run picks on the high or low cycle for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, that is a silver bullet for puncturing a stingy defence.
One of the other stories of this series will be what happens when McDavid and Draisaitl are not on the ice. Against the Kings, Edmonton’s depth forwards were fantastic. They were tenacious on the forecheck and cycle and determined in their back-checking. Against Vegas they were a liability. In the third period, Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele were culpable for consecutive goals a minute apart. When the McDavid, Draisaitl, and Zach Hyman line was on the ice, it produced four high-danger chances. All other lines with over 94 seconds of ice time mustered three high-danger chances combined.
I think the Oilers’ non-superstar players will bring their A-game in Game 2, and I love investing in the overs for points for Hyman, Evan Bouchard, and Evander Kane. Hyman gets that first unit power-play time, where his presence in front of the net has tip-in or rebound possibilities off shots from Bouchard, or he can create an assist like he did to Draisaitl in Game 1.
The Golden Knights are going to move heaven and earth to eliminate the scenario where McDavid comes flying toward the top of the circle and whips a cross-seam pass to Draisaitl for the one-timer. Bouchard had trouble finding the shooting lanes in Game 1, but since he is a preferred option for the Vegas penalty kill, I think he’ll get looks.
At 5-on-5, Bouchard was on the ice with McDavid and Draisaitl for 13:10 and 11:24 minutes respectively. He is the Oilers’ biggest scoring weapon on the back end, and coach Jay Woodcroft is keen to have him playing off the stars on the cycle and as the trailer on the rush.
After playing all of Game 6 against Los Angeles with McDavid and Draisaitl, Kane mostly played away from them in Game 1. Nevertheless, Woodcroft did try to put Kane with them a bit, as he shared three minutes with each of them in Game 1 and saw penalty kill time with McDavid, where the two nearly teamed up for a shorthanded goal.
Last postseason, Kane never went longer than two games without registering a point. Woodcroft understands how important it is to get Kane going and, in Game 1, only McDavid, Draisaitl, and Hyman saw more even-strength ice time.
And Kane has been getting great looks the past two games, accruing seven scoring chances at 5-on-5—he just hasn’t been able to finish. Of course, there is also the possibility Woodcroft shakes up the lines and Kane plays with either or both McDavid and Draisaitl.
Puck management will be a focus in Game 2. Turn the puck over against Vegas and you’re vulnerable to their redoubtable rush game. Spit the puck up on the breakout and you could spend the rest of the shift in your own end.
The Oilers can carve up the Golden Knights by tweaking many of the same methods they used against the Kings. Continue to use interchanges and spread Vegas out more on the cycle. Bait the Golden Knights into double-teams or isolate them in favourable one-on-one matchups. Act brazenly by engaging the Oilers’ defencemen in the offence and look for those backdoor cuts. Interfere more on scoring opportunities and choose indirect methods to try to attack the low slot. The Oilers need to be less selective with shooting, and when they are spraying rubber at the net, they need bodies obstructing Golden Knights goaltender Laurent Brossoit’s sightline. The Oilers must generate traffic to win.
When McDavid and Draisaitl were on the bench, the puck was a little too stagnant in the offensive zone. If the Oilers increase that motion, they’ll be in good shape.
A healthy Oilers’ offence involves Hyman, Kane, and Bouchard contributing on the power play and at 5-on-5. Woodcroft knows that. I like Edmonton to tie the series up behind a big scoring effort.
Picks: Oilers -125, Evan Bouchard O 0.5 points -145,
Zach Hyman O 0.5 points -180, Evander Kane O 0.5 points -145